Tag Archives: 405

The start

I’m in over my head already. It’s here. I’m already a quarter way through my teaching certification.

I have a new understanding of what it means to be a teacher. It isn’t being a lecturer, no matter how fun or funny, entertaining or witty you are. It’s about making connections with every single student, not just one. It’s about creating a safe community so that each student is connecting with one another. It’s about an environment for learning – not just what I’m saying – it’s what the world is saying.

 

I know I have a long way to go. I know there’s much to learn, even after the teaching certification. Even long after tenure. Even after I retire. There’s so much to learn from new and experienced teachers, research, papers, books, methods, constantly shifting world and technology. There’s a way to look at the world, and it doesn’t have to be rigid. There has to be a sense of wonder in our students. I have to keep wondering too, and never get caught up in the ‘grind.’

 

I want the students to be lifelong learners – as I strive to be myself. This is only a beginning. It’s always a beginning.

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Grief

I know there has to be a lot of fear in the teacher when someone close to a student dies, or a student dies. What can they say or do?

Back in high school, a student died in the middle of the day. He had severe health problems that very few – even friends – knew about. One day, during lunch, he collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital. We found out the next morning by announcement what had happened. I had him in my first period English class. The teacher didn’t even pause for a moment. She took attendance and proceeded as if she hadn’t heard a single thing. Several students became outraged and stormed out of the classroom. A student – a friend – someone wasn’t even being acknowledged.

I sat there. I was still in shock over learning the news, and maybe the teacher was too, but she never mentioned the boy once. Perhaps she assumed that we were in high school, and we could deal with something like this. I don’t think that’s true. The teacher had a chance to really bring the class together, but we ended up apart.

I haven’t forgotten that day or that student. He wasn’t someone close, but I had talked to him in passing, joked around. He was part of the classroom in way, and in another way, he was not. I think it’s absolutely vital – even before a tragedy occurs, to create a community within the classroom, to have the teacher know the students so that we can grow from terrible moments as a group, not alone.

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Dreams in Poverty

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with the golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams…

– William Butler Yeats

I start with a poem that made me think about my upbringing. I don’t usually reference poetry, it’s not my forte, but this piece has grown on me over the years. I first heard the poem in a movie (Equilibrium) and ever since it hasn’t left my mind. I had mentioned to a group of people, behind tapping feet and shaking hands, the shame of growing up poor. It shouldn’t be shameful. I had a lot of support in those days even though the support came from people who hadn’t graduated from college, even high school. That I became the first in my family to graduate college wasn’t a coincidence, I am sure of that. I know now that I had full support of my parents, teachers, friends and more to go to college (even with its costs) and graduate.

I had this notion that if you are poor, you can get out of it through education. I still think that’s the truth, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. There are so many hurdles when you’re poor. And I’m not just talking about food stamps, it’s true hunger, it’s no power, it’s no home. There’s no support because it’s always a struggle for basic survival. If you’re hungry, cold, sick, there are needs to be met. I never went hungry and we always had a home. Granted, I was ashamed of our home (it has been since torn down and the homes around it to put up condos), my clothes were a mix of hand-me-downs, and the support that I had was great – but it wasn’t a substitute for experience. I’m blessed, and I have to understand that not everyone will have such a situation. I just hope that I can show some empathy with my future students who’s home may be in a state of disarray, whose family may be constantly in transition, who may not know where they will sleep that night, or had none the night before. It will be a struggle, but understanding is a start.

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Gender and James Bond

Perspective is very important, as I’ve been learning. With all the different students from different socioeconomic levels, cultures, and more, there’s something that half the class will be (unless it’s an all boys/girls school); half the class is female and half is male. Maybe I’m just stating the obvious, but it really makes a difference in how you teach. It’s important to note, as an aside, that along with race, you don’t want to be gender invisible. It’s another community with which we belong. It must be respected, but that isn’t to say that women and men aren’t each capable in their own right. Women mustn’t be ignored with regards to maths and sciences. But I, being male, must also understand how women see themselves. It’s an age old idea that men never ‘get’ women, that we can’t ever really understand, but I believe that false. Of course, I don’t know, but I can listen, be attentive and try to understand. It’s a time when students are developing so rapidly. We’re prepping them for their lives. They need to understand that gender can’t keep them down. That there are women scientists, famous, like Marie Curie, that have changed how we think about the world. But we’re still not a gender invisible world – it’s about opportunity, not outcome. We want to give everyone the chance to succeed, but it doesn’t mean that we treat everyone alike.

Girls will have to deal with their body image, boys will have to deal with their self image. I titled this ‘Gender and James Bond’ to give an open thought. Women have their heroes, men have theirs. James Bond is a prototypical male hero. Is he what it is boys want to emulate? Gender differences must be respected. But I still want to see the girls in my classroom want to be video game engineers, or the boys be elementary school teachers.

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Being the minority

Being white and trying to reflect upon what it means to be someone of less privilege is difficult. It’s difficult not like a particularly difficult math problem, but difficult in that I can never personally see through the eyes of one less privileged. I, being male, white, and have been raised not in poverty, but in an affluent city with all my basic necessities taken care of, have little in my history to know what it’s like to truly be poor, prejudiced, or worse. I can read all the books, see all the films, listen to the music, and experience the culture. It’s still not the same. I do, however, need to evaluate myself.
I spent time in Korea, where I was the minority. The difference between being a minority in the States and being a (white) minority in Korea was that in Korea I wasn’t treated poorly, I was treated much better. I was treated better than I was when I had lived in the states. I was gawked at (being peculiar in skin color and height), but more than that, I was treated as celebrity, a peculiar outsider. I grew close to my fellow Korean (and other expat) teachers, and was part of a teacher community. I too, grew as a person and as a teacher. It was a unique experience, one that will help me in many ways, but I still need to understand the dynamics of what it means to be a teacher in a diverse classroom.

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